2019 was a big year for CitizenLab. Four years after it was founded, our digital democracy platform is now actively being used by 200.000 citizens in 75 different cities. And yet, it still feels like it’s only day one. We’ve got big plans for the upcoming year: new functionalities, an expanded service offering, and a quest for 15 new colleagues.
2019 turned out to be a record year for citizen participation around the world. The Grand Débat in France, the national citizen consultation in Chile or the new citizen assembly in Belgium all illustrate how governments are trying to reinvent the ways they connect with their citizens.
2019 was an exciting year at CitizenLab, full of challenges and milestones. In particular, we would like to thank the +75 governments we worked with throughout the year. We are immensely proud of the social impact we have achieved together, and are happy to share some of the milestones with you below.
Last year in numbers
We helped 200.000 citizens make their voices heard in 600 participation projects. Over the year, we expanded our toolbox for digital participation with many new methods, including citizen initiatives and polling. And all of these methods have been used to build successful cases of participation. Only a few examples of what we helped achieve: 65.000 Chileans voted on a new national constitution via CitizenLab platforms, 10.000 Kortrijk citizens participated in Belgium’s first digital referendum, and the City of Leuven collected 2.500 ideas for their strategic plan.
We grew our team, quickly. Last year, 9 new employees joined the team. A fantastic international recognition for the hard work of our team followed in December with the award of “Europe’s Best Social Impact Startup” at TechCrunch in Berlin. And what’s more, in the coming year we plan to welcome 15 new colleagues. (Psst, make sure to check out our jobs page!)
We launched in new countries through value-added partnerships. In 2019, CitizenLab launched in 3 new countries: the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Chile. Our international partners Tim (UK), Pablo & Magdalena (Chile) and Søren (Denmark) opened new offices in these countries, with great success. We work with over 10 local governments in these countries by now.
We are ready for the next horizon. Last April, CitizenLab raised €2.100.000 to accelerate its international growth. In May, we were awarded the Nesta Collective Intelligence Grant to develop our research on the use of artificial intelligence to process citizen input.
And the cherry on top of the cake: last December, we won the ‘Innovative Starter Award’, recognising the most innovative startup in Brussels, which came with €500.000 to invest in our strategic innovation plan.
There are still some challenges we didn’t manage to solve in 2019.
We still need to install more continuous platforms for local democracy, to ensure that citizens have meaningful participation opportunities at all times – and not just during key moments of the policy cycle.
We still need to lift our clients up on the participation ladder and guide them into the new normal of open and participatory governance.
We still need to solve the inefficiencies of digital participation and ease the reporting on citizen inputs.
We need all of that, in 2020, to make digital democracy work.
What can you expect from us in 2020?
1. An expanded service offering
Digital participation is new to many public administrations. The adoption of a new way of working comes with many questions and challenges. Whilst in the past we have mainly focused on the implementation of services, we want to go beyond in 2020 by providing professional services that help public organisations set and implement longterm strategies on digital participation. Our new offering will include e-participation canvas workshops, communication guidance, and training programs.
2. A complete & configurable participation platform
Our development team is expected to double in size over the coming year to accelerate on our roadmap. What’s new is that we will design our development team to work in two cross-functional squads: one on ‘Engagement’, the other on ‘Insights’ (see below). The former is on a mission to collect the most meaningful inputs from a maximum number of citizens, the latter is aiming to make participatory processes more efficient and enrich decision-making with the inputs. Win-win.
In 2020, the Engagement team will continue what we started four years ago: building the world’s most complete platform for digital democracy. Last year, we added many new participation methods as well as local ID verification methods. This year, we will capitalise on this to deepen all these participation methods and make the platform more easily configurable for administrators.
3. A brand-new ‘Insights’ module
In 2020 we’re committing to solving what is, to us, one of the main barriers for widespread participatory governance: the resource-consuming input processing phase. Many of the clients we work with run successful engagement projects with hundreds or even thousands of ideas and comments as input. The translation of these unstructured inputs into insightful reports for public decision-making is a huge step that we have to take.
We have already taken baby steps on this in the past years and developed our natural language processing (NLP) functionality to cluster ideas. But we need to go beyond and above to solve this resource drain that comes with digital democracy. Apart from (semi-)automating the time-consuming jobs to process inputs, we want to offer policy-makers a fine-grained view of the diversity of opinions in their communities, to better inform decision-making and evaluate their policies in real-time.
4. A partner program to team up with participation professionals
Last year we developed a new internationalisation model that we want to bring to scale this year. We will be constantly on the lookout for consultants and professionals who can deliver value-added services complementary to our participation platform. It is a model we truly believe in, as a solid understanding of a local context is needed to design the best optimal participatory processes. And this will give us the room to focus on what we are best at, ie. building the best possible digital democracy platform.
Details on the partner program will be online soon, but don’t hesitate to reach out if you want more information in the meantime.
Join us on our mission
One thing is for sure: we won’t be able to do all of this ourselves. That’s why we are currently looking for 15 new colleagues in different positions to deliver professional services, grow our participation platform, build the new insights module, and help expand CitizenLab to new regions.